Why did I go to college?

Published on December 14th, 2019

At the beginning of 2014, I joined a FIRST Robotics Competition team called the Wired Wizards. That experience changed my life in more ways than one, but one of the ways it seriously impacted my life was through Quintify.

After the end of the first season, a company called Quintify Database Solutions offered me a job. They were a small company that did web-development, and they sponsored the team. One of my best friends, Danny, was on the team with me. His dad founded and ran Quintify, and that's how they initially sponsored the team.

Honestly, at the beginning, it should've been called an internship, not a job. The inital projects I was doing with the company were far from generating revenue, and were mostly building my skill and experience with the internal product that Quintify used. Despite that, my work with Quintify did eventually evolve into billable client work. By the end of my time with Quintify, I could easily afford to live in an apartment on my own, in most major cities. I decided to go to college anyways. I'm glad I did. This post explores why.

(For the flip side of this story, check out these blog posts by my friend Hannah, who was another kid who worked at Quintify with Danny and I and decided against going to college.)

If we're being realistic, the answer to the questions "why did you choose to go to college?" and "why are you glad you went to college?" are two different answers. I try to address both below.

Making the choice to go to college

When the time came for me to start applying to colleges, I think the choice to apply was almost certainly driven by social pressure. All of my friends applied, my family expected me to apply, and so I did. It was the natural thing to do. I applied to a few different universities, and received a mix of suggestions and rejections. My grades were mostly As, and I did enough extra-curricular activities, so I was a middle-of-the-pack applicant.

While I had considered skipping college, my family was financially well off enough to send me, and the irrational fear of not having a job because I didn't have a degree stuck with me. After I was accepted to NC State, I found myself excited after browsing around the university websites. I was struck by how many different things there were at the school. It seemed like there was something for everyone. It turns out, that was pretty much true. How many different activities and groups I was able to participate in continues to be a big reason why I love NC State.

Rationalizing why college was a good choice

After I came to college, it's easier for me to point to why I'm glad I chose to attend. One of the biggest reasons is that college is enjoyable.

I rarely enjoyed attending classes when I went to university, but attending college is obviously, more than that. You get the chance to meet new people. You get the chance to do new things. You learn about living on your own. Most importantly, you start to get a sense for who you are. A college campus is, in some ways, a microcosm of the world, with some constraints. College has been the perfect place for me to develop my ideas and to grow as a person.

Now, for a moment, I'd like to take some time to explore some parallels between going to a university, and going to California.

Technologists and entrepreneurs love to talk about the benefits of living in the Bay Area of California, the so called "Silicon Valley." I had the occasion to visit the Bay Area a few months ago, and the biggest takeaway is that Silicon Valley enables entrepreneurs to be successful based on two major factors:

  • Availability of static resources - In Silicon Valley, funding for new ideas is plentiful (right now.) Venture Capitalists are interested in investing in any idea that seems novel. Not only that, but there are offices for coworking, hacker and maker spaces, and plenty more. Resources to start a startup are very available.

  • Availability of intellectual resources - The other factor is that there are a lot of smart people in Silicon Valley, who think about startups and software all the time. If you are working in a particular problem space, (say, the idea of doing on-demand meal delivery,) you're more likely to find people who have also spent time thinking about the intersection of technology and food in the Bay Area. Even if you can't easily find someone who is thinking about it immediately, the barrier to understanding will be lower because both of you are starting from a common ground of being interested in software and technology.

I don't believe Silicon Valley is some magical resource that all entrepreneurs must experience. I actually reject the sustainability of putting all of our entrepreneurs in one place... homelessness continues to rise in the Bay Area. The benefits outlined above, however, are excellent force multipliers to enable people to grow and become stronger thinkers and technologists. I found those benefits at my school.

  • Availability of static resources - My university has immeasurable resources available to students. Free office space, funding to work on my ideas, free legal advising, even simple things like availability to all the food and ice cream I could want! Of course, these things are free only in the immediate sense of the word... I paid for the availability of these things with my tuition.

  • Availability of intellectual resources - At a university with over 35,000 students, there is plenty of opportunity for overlap on interest and experience. Within my major program, (Computer Science, B.S.,) it's easy to find students with a shared understanding of technology, and I can visit any other department to find students with an interest in any given area.

These benefits, which I discovered after committing to attending college, are why I think attending my university was a good decision for me.

I don't think that students should have to attend a major university or have to move to the Bay Area to experience these benefits. I believe the internet gives us the potential to make static and intellectual resources available to many more people, by building meaningful virtual communities. I believe we have not yet scratched the surface of what's possible here. If you're interested in this sort of thing, please check out my virtual think-tank, VC³.